KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE- Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Chav

“Give me a far-fetched diabolical plot” intones Colin Firth’s character in Kingsman: The Secret Service, “like the old Bond movies.” Well ask, and you shall receive. The latest slice of cinema from Matthew Vaughn (Kick Ass, Stardust, X-Men: First Class) is exactly that, a throwback to the Bond of yesteryear, but thanks to it’s young protagonist, gleeful exuberance and tongue in cheek approach it feels anything but old.

The Kingsmen are a secret service agency, founded in the early 1900s, independently financed and unaligned with any world government. When one of their number, Lancelot, is killed on assignment a recruitment process begins to fill the dead man’s shoes. Each remaining Kingsman chooses an entrant, in the case of Galahad (Colin Firth) he selects Eggsy (Taron Egerton), a boy raised on the wrong side of the tracks living with his mother and abusive step-father. He is selected partly because of his abilities but primarily because his father was a former Kingsman also killed in the line of duty 17 years earlier while saving the life of Galahad. His training proceeds along with the other recruits, meanwhile Galahad continues to investigate the death of Lancelot. He finds a connection to the tech billionaire Richmond Valentine’s (Samuel L. Jackson), his new telecommunications technology launch as well as a recent spate of abductions of some of the world’s most prominent figures.

Based on Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons comicbook from 2012 and adapted by the frankly awesome team of Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman, Kingsman: The Secret Service throws you into a colorful world of debonair spies, gadgets, megalomaniac villains, spectacular set pieces, and sharks with fricking laser beams attached to their heads! Ok, no sharks with frickin laser beams attached to their heads, but you get my point. It’s as if all the fun cast off from the last three Bond films was salvaged by Vaughn and injected into this effort.

While I appreciate the direction the Bond franchise has taken, there is still a sense of loss at the removal of the cheesier, fun elements. Kingsman sates that need and then some. On the surface the film conveys a similar tone to Kick Ass, landing somewhere smack between James Bond and Austin Powers, but it has a brutal vein running though it bringing to mind the Jason Bourne films and dare I even say it John Wick. The latter due to the clinical brutality at times but the world building as well. The thrilling training sequences of the potential Kingsman is juxtaposed with Galahad’s investigation into the activities of Valentine, inevitably both plot threads come together making for a relentless onslaught of action, humor and gleeful violence.

Kingsman is rather self-aware, filled with cheeky references to spy productions like Get Smart, Harry Palmer, Jason Bourne and more and also intentional call backs like the one I opened this review with. It’s a refinement of everything that has come before. From jokes, action sequences and even the plot (hello Moonraker!). Yet it is delivered with such flair and fun that it doesn’t matter. There is a classy retro feel to proceedings, not just old school with the attire and manners but design and music. Wonderful instrumental cues harkening back to Bond films of the 70s and 80s with a healthy smattering of BritPop. Small touches such as a nod to Rosa Klebb’s spiked shoe or spy pens bring as big a smile to the face as the larger set pieces. This includes a pretty breathtaking skydiving sequence, a fight sequence in a Westboro-style church that will go down in infamy and a hilarious symphonic sequence of death set to Land of Hope and Glory which encapsulates the flamboyant, colorful spirit of the film.

It is not a straight out action film. Kingsman strives to touch on social themes, notably class structure, something perhaps more of a hot topic in the UK with the remnants of the aristocracy and royalty still holding sway over matters of politics and money. Gary ‘Eggsy’ Unwin is someone from the lower ends of British society, plucked by Galahad to have a chance to be something more, seeing potential, a diamond in the rough as it were. Eggsy’s arc deals with his own thoughts on authority and the more well-off types as well as prejudice around him from classmates who were “born with a silver spoon up their arse”. The moral of the tale is “Manners maketh the man”. A true man’s potential is within, not down to environment. There are open references to My Fair Lady, Trading Places (“feeling good Louis!”) and more. Overall the arc from council estate chav to super spy chav is handled very well, largely due to the great, natural work of Taron Egerton. One to keep an eye on for sure.

The film demonstrates impeccable casting, drawing on Bonds who could have been to fill out the roster of the Kingsman themselves. In addition to the excellent Egerton in the lead, I never knew Colin Firth had it in him to be this badass. Mark Strong, always a welcome presence, takes a more subdued role as the Q-like Merlin but he still has his moments to shine action-wise, but his work as a tutor to Eggsy is one of the key dynamics in the film. Sophie Cookson does great work as another Kingsman recruit. Smaller roles fleshed out by the likes of Michael Caine, Jack Davenport and Mark Hamill all contribute to a wonderful ensemble which give the film a charm that cannot be understated.

A Bond film was often judged on its villains and Kingsman provides that opportunity too. Typically these bad guys had an affectation, Dr. No had his mechanical hands, Jaws had his metal teeth, here Valentine has his…lisp. He is accompanied by a wonderful female henchman Gazelle (Sofia Boutlla) with Oscar Pistorius style prosthetics, albeit with a razor sharp feature. Samuel L Jackson clearly enjoyed the part and it shows, plenty of flourishes were added to give a nod to the past while keeping things fresh.

While a hell of a ride, the film is not without it’s issues. It erred more on the smug side than the sophisticated and this is coming from a fellow Brit. Additionally some of the smuttier humor and hyper violence will not be for everyone, its over the top and a little crude at times, an anal sex comment feeling uncomfortably inserted (pun intended). Basically if you had any issue with Kick-Ass, this may not be for you.

From a narrative point of view, some of the choices made to heighten the stakes and hit emotional beats do slightly undermine the finale. The loss of certain characters are sorely missed and while the increased action towards the end is thrilling it isn’t quite an adequate substitute for the loss of character presence and the rapport developed between them and the remaining cast. While one could look back and nitpick a few things, the whole endeavor moves at such a great pace and is packed with so much action and humor its easy to overlook the flaws.

As Casino Royale took Bond into a more grounded and somber world, so Kingsman takes the spy film in a more fun, OTT direction. It is a film that feels like a guilty pleasure. Kingsman does lack originality, being an amalgamation of so many things that have come before. But they are blended together perfectly, dialed up to eleven and blasted into your face locking it into a massive grin.

The cherry on top is that it even shows the correct way to make a Martini, the Churchill way. A frightfully good time, as us British types would say.

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